Gender and Sexuality
Four Women Arrested at the Western Wall in Jerusalem
On Sunday August 19, 2012 in Jerusalem, four more women were arrested at the Kotel, the Western Wall, considered the holiest site in Judaism, for reportedly engaging in behavior that could lead to “endangering the public peace and for wearing a prayer shawl.”
They were praying.
Yes, it is still against the law for women to pray out loud, wear a tallit (prayer shawl), and read from the Torah at the Kotel. However, such practices are considered normative for many Jewish women worldwide. The law stems from a 2003 Israeli Supreme Court decision, when the Court upheld in principle the right of Women of the Wall to pray at the Wall, yet succumbed to the bullying of religious extremist parties. Unfortunately, the incorporation of these parties seems to be required for the formation of any coalition government.
The 2003 Court decision moved communal prayer for women and mixed-gender Jewish communities (Reform, Conservative, Renewal and Reconstructionist) to another area of the Wall called Robinson’s Arch, creating a separate and unequal situation, further strengthening the power of religious extremists at the main plaza. For the full history of Women of the Wall’s court battles, click here.
But like early court responses to Jim Crow laws in the United States, not all Court decisions are de facto ethical.
Israeli government officials would have us believe that the forced move to Robinson’s Arch was a reasonable compromise to keep the peace, and that women need to stop being so uppity. For the record, the uppity women of Women of the Wall are routinely called Nazis. I call them courageous.
And since that fateful Court decision, a heart-wrenching defeat for Women of the Wall, conditions for women have only deteriorated. Emboldened religious extremists, laden with political power, have forced women to enter and sit in the back of many public buses, and walk on gender-segregated sidewalks in religious neighborhoods. They have banned women from certain stores, silenced them on the radio, defaced images of women on public advertisements, and challenged Israel’s national airline El Al to cater to extremist seating preferences, moving women to other seats. Repeatedly, women have had to stand up for themselves, often in court, to remain equal in the public sphere, and they risk physical harm.
So what can you do about all of this?
1) You can sign on to the Women of the Wall’s facebook page and keep up to date.
2) You can follow the legal efforts of the Israel Religious Action Center.
3) You can learn about the New Israel Fund, which helps protect all those who are marginalized in Israel, including women.
4) You can organize a “sing-in” like Friends of Women of the Wall did this week, in front of your Israeli consulate, to ensure that women’s voices are heard.
5) You can sign the petition to diversify the Western Wall Heritage Council (run by the extreme-Orthodox) here.
Make no mistake, Women of the Wall’s struggle is emblematic of the larger struggle to protect the public rights of women from religious extremism.
I was born a Jewish girl (in an ill-fated time, WWII). But the behavior ever since of extremist orthodox Jews, and even of all narrow-minded traditionalists, has prevented me from further believing in and practicing the religion of my fathers: this is not the god I’d recognize as my guide. For the perpetuation of the Jewish people, they are utterly counterproductive (also in the political sense).
That is sad Anita, but your comment comes from the heart and mind. I respect that.
It is very difficult to find an institutional religion that isn’t profoundly sexist. I’ve prayed at the Wall. When I found out that women were not permitted to pray there (in the 80’s there was a brief period when they were doing so), my heart broke. We live in a time when the progress we thought we were making in the 70’s and 80’s is very past tense. Roman Catholicism, Ultra Orthodox Judaism, Alamite and Shiite Islam, Monastic Buddhism, Conservative Hinduism, Christian Fundamentalism all share this deep hatred and fear of the feminine and the empowerment of women. I find it very hard to pray in any religious structure. I touch the earth and pay now inside to what sustains life. I don’t even have a name for it any more. Thank you for this article.
Can I say something that could help the world God wants nothing,needs nothing.
Could a god who wants something from humans be the reason humans invented Organized religion in the first place.There has never been a new thought brought forward by Organized religion for a very long time and this has been slowing down humanity’s evolution for millenia.
We are all one .
Thank you, Abby, for giving us steps that we can take (other than being overwhelmed by despair and anger).
Thank you so much for your thoughtful and heartfelt responses. Anita, I decided awhile ago that I was not going to let others dictate my spirituality or separate me from my connection to Judaism. Jim, I love that you touch the earth and pray inside to what sustains life. So beautiful! Stephen, so true we are all one. Judaism is one path of many. I need it, not God. Vanessa, you have been on a long hard road as one of the founders of Women of the Wall, since 1988. So many women stand on your shoulders. Thank you!